This Post Put My Life in Perspective


Comedian Demetri Martin tells a joke about going to the bookstore, picking up an autobiography, flipping to the “about the author” section on the back flap and reading that instead of the entire book. Brilliant!

It’s remarkable that every book, every seminar or lecture, every speech, every novel or film can be boiled down to a single sentence. Every life, every career can be distilled— reduced to its essence—in one line.

Wikipedia tells us that Hemingway was “An American author and journalist,” that Chaplin was “An English comic actor who rose to fame in the silent era,” and that Jesus was “The central figure of Christianity, whom most Christians hold to be the Son of God.”

Summarizing a life clearly, simply, and accurately can be challenging. Where do you begin and end?

It’s a cliché among writers that everybody has a book in them, though Christopher Hitchens tells us that in most cases that’s where it should stay.

Last year I searched for a coach who could help me write my book. I wanted someone who could help me find my writer’s voice and refine my message. I wanted to get clear about what exactly I have to say and how to most effectively say it.

One prospective coach asked me to prepare for our first meeting by writing what I would say if I could broadcast ten of my life’s lessons— as single-sentences— to every person on Earth. What have I learned that I would want to share with every person on the planet? What would you say?

Samuel Johnson wrote, “When a man knows he is to be hanged in a fortnight, it concentrates his mind wonderfully.” Unfortunately, I have found, that without the real and immediate threat of death, getting perfect clarity is nigh impossible.

Wess Roberts, a friend and best-selling author, once told me that if I want to know if my writing is any good— if people like it and are willing to pay for it— that I should reduce my main ideas to a single page, take that page downtown, stop people on the sidewalk and try to get them to read what I’ve written. If they do, he said, I should then ask them to pay me whatever they thought it was worth. He said that doing that would teach me all the same lessons I’d need to earn a spot on the New York Times Bestsellers List someday.

In his book The Millionaire Messenger, Brendon Burchard presents a ten-step plan to help people turn their passions and life lessons into profitable businesses. The first step, he says, is to “Claim and Master Your Topic.” I got stuck on step one.

I’ve heard other authors and speakers say things like, “I teach people how to live mindfully in a modern age,” or “I make great people unstoppable,” or “I help people find and live their highest purpose.” But I had no idea how to cast myself.

In our marketing-driven, sound bite society it’s easy to get overlooked without such a single-sentence descriptor. Heck, it’s easy to get overlooked with one.

Perhaps writing my own obituary can help me find the clarity I’m seeking. Maybe I should start with just six words, à la Not Quite What I Was Planning: Six-Word Memoirs by Writers Famous and Obscure. I found this book when I drafted my brother Roger’s obituary last August. It inspired, “Cars and Computers— Never Fast Enough.”

Once I get past the discomfort that comes with envisioning my own demise, the thought of writing my own obituary really appeals to me. It reminds me of something Steve Jobs once said,

“Remembering that I’ll be dead soon is the most important tool I’ve ever encountered to help me make the big choices in life. Almost everything— all external expectations, all pride, all fear of embarrassment or failure— these things just fall away in the face of death, leaving only what is truly important.

Remembering that you are going to die is the best way I know to avoid the trap of thinking you have something to lose. You are already naked. There is no reason not to follow your heart.”

And now I know it! Writing this post really has helped me put my life in perspective. For my six-word memoir I want, “Lived simply. Loved fully. Died happy.” 🙂

What about you?

PS – If you’ve made it this far I’ll tell you about the photo above. I’ve include it because it represents for me the simplicity of life before we have language. It was many years before I started worrying about things like “How should I brand myself?” “What do I want out of life?” and “Am I happy?” (By the way, it’s one of my theories that if you ask that last question, you’re not.) 

The photo on the left is me in 1977, and the photo on the right is my daughter Maya in 2014. Thanks to my wife Dawn for mashing these photos together. Good times being a baby, but I’ll never go back.



How I Found Clarity and Enthusiasm while Floating in Darkness


I traveled to San Francisco last weekend to begin training to become a certified executive coach. After 30 hours of training in three days, I visited a spa for a massage and for my first experience “floating.”

If you’ve never seen one, a float tank looks like a giant 1970’s-era refrigerator. It’s basically a lightproof, soundproof cube that’s nearly 10 feet to a side, filled with about 18 inches of body-temperature water and nearly 800 pounds of Epsom salt to ensure effortless floatation.

Spending an hour in the float tank was simultaneously one of the strangest, most challenging and enlightening experiences of my life. It’s sort of like forced meditation, but I suspect that if a person wasn’t ready (or willing) to experience it, it could be a form of torture. While inside, there were definitely moments where my mind chewed on itself.

I came away from the experience with a renewed desire to experience a true zero-gravity environment. Also, I’m more committed than ever to avoid any course of action that contains even a tiny chance of me spending any amount of time in solitary confinement.

Each morning and evening I review my goals. I carry a piece of paper with these 13 goals written on it, and I take it with me everywhere I go. I used my time in the float tank to mentally review these goals, to visualize their accomplishment, to think about the next steps  for each one and to imagine how I will feel after they are achieved.

Immediately upon beginning to review my goals, a desire arose within me to invite Infinite Intelligence into the process. Mentally, I said something like, “I’m about to review the things that I’ve devoted my life to becoming and accomplishing. I have made this list of goals in the absence of knowing exactly what I should be doing with my time on Earth. If you want me to devote my life’s energy to anything other than the things on this list, I’m open to that. If so, please let me know.”

The hard part about talking to God (at least for me), is that it can be so hard to know when God’s talking back. I often find myself asking a question hoping for, or even expecting, a certain response, and it can be so challenging to know what the response is, or even if there is one.

As I lay there floating in darkness alone with my thoughts, hoping for some kind of answer, I felt a confirmation that the things on my list were good. I reflected that it’s not necessarily about the specific things we do anyway, it’s about how we do the things we do. That what really matters is that we act from a place of loving kindness, mindfulness, service, humility, integrity, gratitude and generosity.

I thought about the fact that each of us has unique gifts to give, and that one of the best ways to share these with others is by doing work that we truly enjoy. I’ve thought about this many times before, and I’m aware that this can sound simplistic, or even selfish. But as I explored this idea in the float tank, I had an insight that I’d never had before.

It’s that our passion and enthusiasm are gifts we can share with others over and above the objects that we’re passionate about or the results of the work we do. For example, if I love pinball, motorcycles or writing (which I do), and I share my excitement about those things with you, that excitement is distinct from and in addition to any enjoyment you might (or might) not derive from pinball or motorcycles or writing.

And if you love seventeenth century French literature or rock climbing or accounting and you share with me your passion and excitement about those things, your energy and enthusiasm will almost certainly inspire and uplift me, even if I don’t share your love for those things.

Enthusiasm makes us magnetic, especially when it’s derived from a sense of purpose— that’s often what draws us to leaders. If we aspire to lead, we might benefit from H. Jackson Brown’s advice, “Become the most positive and enthusiastic person you know.” And to remember Ralph Waldo Emerson’s words, “Nothing great was ever achieved without enthusiasm.” Finding something we’re enthusiastic about and sharing that enthusiasm blesses and elevates everyone around us. It draws people to us.

As I concluded reviewing my goals and imagining how my life will look once I accomplish them, I felt enthusiasm naturally surge inside me. Jack Canfield once told me that if you don’t wake up every morning excited about the day you’re about to live, you either don’t have enough goals, big enough goals, or the right goals. Simply having the right goals, he says, creates a positive tension within us that pulls us toward the accomplishment of those goals and naturally stimulates enthusiasm.

As I reflected on all this, a thought from the coaching training I had just completed came to mind— the idea that when we set a goal, whatever we set as our goal is not actually our goal. Our true goal is to feel whatever it is we believe we’ll feel when we reach that goal. What we originally thought was our goal is merely our strategy to achieve a feeling.

In other words, if set a goal to become a certified coach because I think it will bring a sense of accomplishment and provide me with the satisfaction that comes from having served others, I would benefit from remembering that those feelings are available to me now. And the more I consciously endeavor to experience those feelings, the more they will show up in my life.

I emerged from the float tank, showered and left the spa, and stepped onto one of San Francisco’s sidewalks. The city’s colors were richer than they’d been just a couple hours before, the air was crisper and the sounds of traffic sound were sharp and clear. I had a deepened appreciation for the privilege that being alive is, and felt a greater purpose and enthusiasm for pursuing my goals while enjoying the journey along the way.

I wished I could hold onto that clarity, but I knew that life’s realities and responsibilities would inevitably wash it away. The struggle to hold onto, or at least periodically regain as much of that clarity as possible, is part of both life’s challenge and reward. I resolved to not allow it to simply float away.